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Man charged in Eliza Fletcher's murder pleads not guilty during court hearing Friday

Judge Lee Coffee will now hear several different cases against Cleotha Henderson, aka Abston, in one courtroom.

MEMPHIS, Tenn — The man charged with kidnapping and killing Eliza Fletcher pleaded not guilty during his arraignment Friday, Feb. 3, 2023.

Cleotha Henderson, aka Abston, faces charges of murder and kidnapping Fletcher, and he faces additional charges in other cases, including aggravated rape and kidnapping from a separate case last year. He also faces charges of identity theft and of being a convicted felon in possession of a handgun in other cases.

Judge Lee Coffee will now hear the different cases against Henderson in one courtroom, and Jennifer Case, who is his court-appointed public defender, will represent him in all the cases. He is due back in court March 30, 2023.

Fletcher was running on the University of Memphis campus when police said she was forced into a vehicle after a struggle about 4 a.m. Sept 2, 2022. Investigators said her body was found Sept. 5 behind a vacant home after a massive search lasting more than three days.

Henderson, who also has gone by the name Cleotha Abston, has been charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping in the case. U.S. Marshals arrested him a day after the abduction after police said they detected his DNA on a pair of sandals found near where Fletcher was last seen, according to an arrest affidavit.

After he was charged with killing Fletcher, Henderson was charged with raping a woman in September 2021 — about a year before Fletcher was killed. He was not arrested on rape charges before Fletcher's killing because evidence from a sexual assault kit test had not been available at the time, authorities have said.

Henderson also previously kidnapped a prominent Memphis attorney in 2000 when he was 16-years-old. He spent 20 years in prison for that crime.

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